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July 20, 2016

Badass Ladies You Should Know: Bea and Leah Koch

Kate Hart
headshot of Bea and Leah Koch

Feminist. Sex positive. Welcoming, Fun and Pink.” That's how Bea Koch, one of the sisters behind The Ripped Bodice, describes the store. The Kickstarter campaign for the sole romance-only bookstore in the US (and the Northern Hemisphere) got a lot of attention in my neck of the internet woods, and rightfully so: A store that respectfully and earnestly caters to the much-maligned tastes of female readers? Sign me up.

Sadly, The Ripped Bodice is about a 1500 miles from my house, but Racked has a great profile of the store, and my LA friends are definitely fans. I wanted to find out more about the ladies with the great idea, and luckily they were willing to share their badassery with us.


sidewalk shot of store window with The Ripped Bodice logo and a pink awning overhead
The storefront
Kate: Describe your career(s) and/or current projects. What path(s) and passions led you there?

Bea and Leah: We are the owners of The Ripped Bodice bookstore in Culver City, CA. We are the only exclusively romance bookstore in the Northern Hemisphere.

The story of the store is one that relies heavily on timing. We were living across the country from each other as Bea finished her graduate degree at NYU and Leah attended USC. Bea visited Leah one weekend, and over the course of one conversation the Ripped Bodice began to take shape. We were full speed ahead basically from the moment we had the idea.

The bookstore - and the idea of running our own business - was so appealing from the get go that we never second-guessed it. We knew we wanted a home for all of our creative interests and this seemed like the perfect place.

Kate: Do you have any (other) creative outlets? How do they influence/affect your main work (if at all)? 

Leah: Quilting is so relaxing for me. I was using it to make money in my last year of college so now it's quite nice for it to just be a hobby I can do in my (admittedly not very much) spare time.

Bea: Writing is definitely not relaxing, but it's something I need to do. I've always kind of lived in my own world, but owning a business requires a very different mindset that I've had to cultivate and work on.

Bea and Leah Koch with cover model Fabio
The owners with Fabio
Kate: What's your biggest challenge?

Leah: We are both very introverted and that presents a lot of difficulties for us in our work. Retail is a very person to person job and we engage very directly and deeply with our customers. Given our introverted tendencies, it can be very draining for us. We both work hard to make sure we have time to replenish the energy we are expending. For the first couple of weeks we were both in the store, all day, everyday. We learned pretty quickly that we need days off to recharge.

Kate: Tell us something that makes you proud.

Leah: I am always tickled when people ask if we had a designer for the store.

Bea: There have been a few customers who have had such a strong emotional reaction to the store. They keep me going. To see someone instantly recognize that this space is for them - specifically for them - is such a special thing for me.

a tabletop display at The Ripped Bodice
A store display

Kate: Did you have any defining moments that galvanized your understanding of and/or commitment to feminism? How does it inform/inspire your work? 

Leah: Our mom was probably the biggest influence in our personal feminism, with our dad following closely behind. We were taught from the beginning to be strong and self-sufficient. That helplessness is not cute. If there was a problem we should step in and fix it ourselves, not wait for someone else.

Bea: Feminism is a thru-thread in everything we do. And I am reminded by the importance of visible feminism every time a man recoils or laughs upon entering my store. It's like #masculinitysofragile on display 24/7. Our storefront is pink. We have a large sign proclaiming that we are "romantic bookstore" and you would not believe (or maybe you would) the amount of men who walk in and ask "is anything in here for me?" It's for everyone! This genre is for everyone and anyone. But we did design the space for women. There are so many other spaces for men, that women contend with every day with no complaint. This one bookstore is designed to make women feel comfortable. If that makes you uncomfortable, I think you need to ask yourself why?

cards for sale at The Ripped Bodice
The Ripped Bodice sells
more than just books!
Kate: What are the best ways to support other women?

Bea: Any way you can! For us, that's been working with other female owned businesses, makers, and authors.

Kate: What is your advice to aspiring badasses?

Leah: Work, work, work, work, WERK! (and Peggy!)

(that was a Hamilton reference for those of you that are confused)

Nothing is going to happen if you don't put the time in. I think younger women need to start soul searching earlier and really figure out what they want to put their energy towards. That is not going to be career for everyone. If you would be happy in a low stress job and put all your energy towards climbing mountains in your spare time, do that! If your goal is to have a family, start thinking about that early and how you are going to make that happen. If you want to rule the business world, get out on your own early. Take what you can learn working for others and then start failing on your own. Also find a business partner who is your sister. Doesn't have to be biological. You want someone who is going to care more about you then the business and more about the business then herself.

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Bea and Leah Koch are sisters and the owners of The Ripped Bodice. We grew up in Chicago. Bea went on to attend Yale and NYU, where she wrote a graduate thesis titled, "Mending the Ripped Bodice." Leah moved to Los Angeles to attend USC, graduating cum laude with a degree in visual and performing arts. Our family also includes our Dad and our brother Jacob and his lovely wife Olivia, our dog Chester who lives at home with dad, and our cat Clementine. Bea loves her boyfriend Charlie, Bravo reality shows and french fries. Leah loves pizza, Hamilton and weirdly inspiring reality shows like American Ninja Warrior.

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  1. I heard a lovely interview with them a few weeks ago and they sounded adorable!


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